Draw Near to God

Do not come any closer.

These were the words of God to Moses at the burning bush. Throughout the Old Testament, God repeatedly warned his people not to come close. He commanded Moses to put a barrier around the mountain of the Lord lest the people climb it and be destroyed by their holy God. The children of Israel were commanded to keep their distance from the Ark of the Covenant, which was symbolic of the presence of the Lord. Even the priests were not to enter the Most Holy place because the presence of the Lord was there. This distance between God and His people is dealt with all throughout the Old Testament.

In the New Testament, however, we see a startling contrast. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

In the Greek, the word “come” has the idea of drawing near. This passage invites us to draw near the throne of grace. Unlike in the Old Testament where God’s people were told to keep their distance, now we are invited into the very near presence of God. Why? What has changed?

Throughout the Old Testament, God commanded His people to keep their distance not because He did not love them but because He wanted to protect them. God is holy holy holy. We are unrighteous, completely defiled by sin. Unrighteousness cannot stand in the presence of the Holy God. He is a consuming fire. He commanded His people to keep their distance lest He consume them.

So what about now? Why can we draw near? Are we better than the people of the Old Testament? Has God changed?

We are as unrighteous as ever. God is unchanging. He is righteous and holy. In our unholy state, we have no access to God.

The invitation to come into the very near presence of God is not based upon our holiness. It is based upon the holiness of another. Because Jesus Christ lived a perfectly righteous life, died and rose again, we can stand before God.

We can draw near not on our own merits but rather on the merit of Christ. As believers, we are clothed in His righteousness. It is only through the holiness and perfection of Christ that we can draw near.

What an incredible reality! No longer do we have to keep our distance from God. No longer is there a chasm between our Lord and us. Christ has bridged that chasm for us and we can draw near to God.

Hebrews 10:19-22 says, “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

Because of the work of Christ on our behalf, we can draw near with full assurance of faith. We do not have to fear being rejected by God. If we are in Christ, He invites us into His presence. He desires that we would draw near and discover the joy of intimacy and sweet fellowship with Him.

Becoming a Mature Believer

What does it look like to grow as a Christian?

Many young believers see their need for God so clearly. They realize that they have sinned and messed up their lives. They are desperate to live differently and know that apart from God it is impossible so they cling to Him. They are dependent upon Him. They seek His will in the smallest moments of everyday life.

As the years go by, often, these believers grow up and become more “mature” in their faith. They become accustomed to the Christian life. They lose their conscious need for God’s help. They stop depending on Him and seeking His help and guidance in every area of their lives.

This is normal but is it right? Should we grow up in our faith to be independent of God or should we grow more dependent every day?

John 15:4-8 says, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”

As believers, we should constantly be growing and becoming more fruitful for the kingdom. According to Jesus the only means by which a believer can bear fruit is by abiding in Him. If we abide in Jesus we will bear much fruit. Without Jesus, we can accomplish nothing.

A branch’s job is not to bear fruit. Instead, it is to abide in the vine. If it abides in the vine, it will produce fruit. In the same way, our job as believers is to abide in Jesus. If we do so our lives will overflow with fruit.

Although it is normal for us to grow in independence, we should instead grow in dependence. This is the key to maturity and fruitfulness. The Christian life can be summed up in one word—Jesus. He is our aim, our goal, our life.

A mature believer is one whose whole life is wrapped up in Jesus, one who has truly learned to abide in and depend upon Him.

Is that your reality as a believer? Is your life summed up in Jesus? Are you growing more dependent upon Him every day?

May we mature in our faith by growing in dependence.  May we cling ever tighter to Jesus.

Consistent Christianity

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The greatest argument against Christianity is not the problem of pain or the lack of miracles in our world but rather the inconsistency of Christians. Too often our actions contradict our message. We proclaim grand truth but live mediocre lives.

Although we as Christians often grow accustomed to this discrepancy, unbelievers do not. They recognize the inconsistency in our lives and often use it to discredit our God.

Two years ago I stumbled across a tract by an atheist that profoundly challenged me. Although he is an atheist, this man has a clearer understanding of what the consistent Christian life would look like than many Christians. The tract reads as follows:

“Did I firmly believe, as millions say they do, that the knowledge and practice of religion in this life influences destiny in another, religion would mean to me everything. I would cast away earthly enjoyments as dross, earthly cares as follies, and earthly thoughts and feelings as vanity. Religion would be my first waking thought, and my last image before sleep sank me into unconsciousness. I should labour in its cause alone. I would take thought for the morrow of Eternity alone. I would esteem one soul gained for heaven worth a life of suffering. Earthly consequences should never stay my hand, nor seal my lips. Earth, its joys and its griefs, would occupy no moment of my thoughts. I would strive to look upon Eternity alone, and on the Immortal Souls around me, soon to be everlastingly happy or everlastingly miserable. I would go forth to the world and preach to it in season and out of season, and my text would be, what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”

This is the consistent Christian life. We claim to believe that earthly life holds little significance in view of eternity but do we truly live it? We claim to love those who don’t know Christ but how much can we really love them if we believe they are lost without Christ and yet are unwilling to preach the gospel to them?

As believers, we are called to give up everything for Jesus. We are called to be sold-out for Him. But are we? Our lack of evangelism condemns us. Our dusty Bibles condemn us. Our empty prayer meetings condemn us.

Where are the bold Christians who are willing to lose everything for Christ? Where are the Moseses of our day—the humble leaders? Where are the Esters of our day—the bold intercessors? Where are the Pauls of our day—the suffering servants?

Our world needs bold Christians who are willing to spend and be spent for Christ. May we become those Christians.

“Rise up, O men of God! Have done with lesser things; Give heart and soul and mind and strength to serve the King of kings. Lift high the cross of Christ; Tread where His feet have trod; As brothers of the Son of Man, Rise up, O men of God!”
William Pierson Merrill “Rise up, O men of God.”

 

Willing to be Spent

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If God poured out the life of His Son why can He not pour out your life as well?

Many Christians believe that because God is good, their life should always be comfortable. A self-centered mindset permeates much of modern Christianity. Far too often we speak and act as if Christianity is all about us.

God’s greatest concern, however, is not our comfort and ease but rather the souls of men and women. Jesus suffered and died in order to bring people to Himself. His entire concern in coming to earth was the rescue of lost people.

1 Corinthians 10:24 says, “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.“

Jesus is the embodiment of this verse. He never sought his own well-being. He did not come to earth for Himself. He did not suffer and die for His pleasure. Jesus came seeking our well-being. He bled and died for us.

We are called to live as Jesus did, seeking the good of others. We are not to live self-protective lives. We are to give of ourselves.

When we come to Jesus we lay down our rights and relinquish control giving our lives to God to spend just as He spent the life of His Son.

On January 8, 1956, five young missionaries—Pete Fleming, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Nate Saint, and Roger Youderian—were speared to death while trying to reach a violent tribe in the jungles of Ecuador with the gospel. Some years later one of the widows, Barbara Youderian, was asked the question, “when you found out that your husband had been speared to death and you asked God why, what did He say?” Barbara replied, “It never occurred to me to ask God why.”

If we have surrendered our lives to Jesus we have given them to Him to spend in any way He might choose. Barbara understood this. She and her husband had surrendered their lives fully to Jesus. They were sure that he was leading them to reach out to the Waodani. They knew the danger but they trusted Him with their lives.

When her husband was speared, Barbara did not have to ask why. She had surrendered her own life as well as that of her husband to be spent by God. If God spent the life of His son why would he not spend Roger and Barbara’s lives and ours as well?

Are you willing for your life to be spent by God?

 

Too Busy to Pray?

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We live in a fast-paced, noisy culture. We are always going someplace or doing something. We are constantly being bombarded with noise, the radio, the television, text messages, phone calls.

In the midst of all of our busyness, it can be difficult to find time to pray and study the Word of God.

As Christian’s, it is easy to spiritualize our busyness. We can become so busy with church and church activities, so busy serving God that we never spend time with Him.

This spiritualized busyness shows that deep down in our hearts we believe a lie. We believe that we, in and of ourselves, are capable of serving God.

In truth, we are not.

All effective work for the Kingdom of God is born out of absolute dependence upon Him. If we are not spending time in the Word of God and in prayer, if we are not abiding in Him and depending on Him, then although we may be busy serving Him we are not being effective in our service.

If we only knew how desperately helpless we truly are we would never let a day go by without spending time on our knees.

Jesus said in John 15:4-5, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

Apart from Christ, we cannot do anything. In Jesus, we must live and move and have our being.

Recently I was convicted of the fact that I had slipped away from spending time in prayer and in the Word of God. I was so busy serving God and doing good things for God that I did not have time to spend with Him. The Holy Spirit showed me that I can only serve Him well if I am spending time in His presence. I can only love others well if I am first loving Him well.

I know the power of prayer. I have seen God intervene in my life in glorious ways and yet there is such a temptation to neglect prayer.

I know that I cannot accomplish anything of value without the grace of God and yet there is such a temptation to do things on my own.

If we truly understood the spiritual realm we would realize that it is impossible to be too busy to pray. In fact, every single one of us is too busy not to pray.

We are helpless. We are insufficient. Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. He is our sufficiency.

Living as a Spiritual Athlete

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During the 2016 Olympics, there was a commercial featuring a US gymnast—Simone Biles. In this commercial, Simone says that she could choose to hit snooze but she doesn’t. She could choose to take a day off but she doesn’t. She chooses instead to rise to the challenge. Simone is talking about the reality that if she is going to be the best gymnast that she can possibly be she must make sacrifices. Excellence is a choice.

This commercial caused me to think about my Christian walk. If Simone Biles takes gymnastics that seriously if she works that hard for medals that fade away, how hard should we as Christians be working for our imperishable reward, how seriously should we be taking our Christian lives?

It isn’t that there is anything wrong with hitting snooze or taking a day off. Simone merely understands that if she does those things she is saying no to time spent practicing and refining her skills as a gymnast. She has given herself to gymnastics and she is arguably the best gymnast in the world.

There is nothing wrong with hitting snooze but often that snooze button robs us of time spent with our God. As Christians, we should be fully given to God. Are we as committed to our Lord as Olympic athletes are to their sports?

We are called to live as spiritual athletes.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 says, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

Are we living this way?

When it comes to our Christian walk it is far too easy to be passive. We do not see the urgency. The physical realm is so real that it is easy to get caught up in it and forget about the spiritual realm. In reality, the physical realm is merely a shadow of the much more real and important spiritual realm.

One day when we die we will see that this is true but it is my desire to see it now so that I can live for what matters. I do not want to get caught up in the fleeting foolish fancies of a fading world. I want to live to glorify and honor my King. I want to be a spiritual athlete, running hard for what truly matters, spending every breath for the glory of my King.

 

 

The Courage of Surrender

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Come and die.

This is the call of the Christian life. Jesus gave everything for us. He purchased our very lives on the cross. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

Jesus has purchased us. We are His possession. We must, therefore lay aside our own dreams and desires and live for His dreams and desires. Surrender. Pour your life completely out at the feet of Jesus and allow Him to use it in any way that He sees fit.

God does not ask that we would surrender. He demands it. All throughout Scripture we are commanded to lay aside our own desires, plans, and ambitions and live fully for our God.

Luke 9:23 says, “Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”

To deny in this passage literally means to lose sight of oneself and one’s own interests. A cross is an instrument of death. Jesus is calling us to die to our wants, our dreams, our desires. He is calling us to die to ourselves.

As Christians, we understand this and yet something often holds us back from full surrender. Fear. We are afraid to surrender.

It takes courage to completely surrender. It is not easy.  As Elizabeth Elliot said, “One does not surrender a life in an instant. That which is lifelong can only be surrendered in a lifetime.”

We can gain the courage needed to surrender today yet lack the courage to surrender tomorrow. We are called however to live surrendered lives—every day, every moment, every second fully at the disposal of Jesus Christ to use as He sees fit.

How do we gain the courage to live this way, the courage to surrender?

We must get to know our God. Surrender is only terrifying when we forget to whom we are surrendering. When we remember that we are giving our lives to a perfectly loving, always forgiving and completely unchanging God surrender is no longer frightening. Suddenly it becomes the safest and most reasonable thing to do.

As Corrie Ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

The Fifth Sparrow

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God cares about the little seemingly unimportant things. He cares about the forgotten things, the unnoticed things.

God numbers the hairs on your head, He knows each star by name and He sees every sparrow that falls to the ground.

Matthew 10:29 tells us that two sparrows were sold for a copper coin while Luke 12:6 says that five sparrows were sold for two copper coins. It seems that when four sparrows were sold a fifth was thrown in. Worth so little, this fifth sparrow was merely given away with the four. Though it was of so little value that it was not worth taking into account in the sale, this fifth sparrow is seen, noticed and loved by God. God does not forget the fifth sparrow. Even for this little bird, He cares.

Do you have God’s heart for the little things, the forgotten things, the unnoticed things?

Do you care about the five-year-old girl in India who is being sold for a dollar? Do you care about the Down-Syndrom baby that is dying in an alley in North Korea, abandoned and forgotten? Do you care about the single mom in Haiti whose only means to support her family is prostitution?

In Matthew 10 and in Luke 12 Jesus tells us of God’s concern for the sparrow but then He goes on to tell us that we are worth much more than sparrows. We serve a big God who cares about the minutest detail of His creation yet first and foremost His concern is not for sparrows but for us, for people.

God is broken-hearted over the pain in this world. He is broken-hearted over all of the people that do not know Him. But God is also broken-hearted by the fact that we, His people, often do not share His burden.

We are too busy, too lazy and too comfortable. God is calling us, as His people, out of our ease and into the messiness of a lost world. He wants to share His heart with us. He wants to give us a burden for the forgotten places and the overlooked people.

This is not an option. We are Christians. This is who we are.

In Matthew 16:24 we are told that if we desire to come after Jesus we must deny ourselves which literally means to lose sight of ourselves and our own interests and take up our crosses and follow Jesus.

In our pampered American Christian culture we are used to having Jesus while still pursuing our own desires. Jesus calls us to give up our desires for His desires and our pursuits for His.

Jesus’ great concern is not for our comfort but rather for the lost souls around us. We must abandon our selfish pursuits to serve our God. He is looking for Christians who will share His burden and His heart for the lost and dying.

Will you open up your eyes and allow your heart to be broken by Him? God cares about the fifth sparrow. Do you?

 

 

He Came and He is Coming Again

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O Come. O, Come Emmanuel.

This was the longing of the Jewish heart that very first Christmas and it is the longing of the Christian heart today. He came once. Though we may forget it in all of our hustle and bustle, that is what this Christmas season is all about. But He is also coming again.

Before He ascended into heaven Christ promised that He would return and he warned his followers to keep watch, to be ready. Are we keeping watch? Are we ready?

I especially have to ask myself these questions this time of year. How ironic that this, the time when we honor Christ’s birth, is also the time of year that we are most liable to forget.

What does it mean to keep watch?

Matthew 24:42-51 says, “Watch therefore for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods. But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

For years I have wondered what it really means to keep watch. I imagined a man standing at his post keeping watch. Surely, I thought that cannot be what Jesus meant. After all, if that was what He meant none of us could ever sleep again!

Recently in a sermon, my pastor said that keeping watch is living with the end in mind. It is living every moment in light of the return of Christ.

In Matthew 24 Jesus gave us the parable of two servants. One lived with the return of his master in mind. He did his job and he was rewarded for it. The other however did not live with the return of his master in mind and thus he did not do his job and he was justly punished for it.

Which servant are we?

Are we, even and especially during this busy time of year, living every moment of our lives with the return of Christ in mind? Are we that faithful and wise servant or are we the evil servant?

You are Your Brother’s Keeper

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Genesis 4 tells us about Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve. Cain became angry with his brother Abel and ended up committing the first recorded murder in history. He killed his brother. In verse 9 we are told that God asked Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain’s response was, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Ultimately God punished Cain for his sin.

Whether we want to admit it or not many of us ask the same question. Am I my brother’s keeper?

There is a bait in Christianity to have a lone ranger mindset. Instead of being involved in the body of Christ it is far too easy to isolate oneself. After all, my relationship with Christ is just between me and God isn’t it?

The reality of the matter is that we are commanded to be a part of the body of Christ.

For years I struggled with this command and wondered why it is so important to be involved in a church.

I believe that the reason so many of us are confused by this is because we have the wrong mindset toward the body of Christ. We think that it is all about us.

If the body of Christ is all about you and you are being hurt by it and feel that you would be safer at home it would make sense to just stay home. Likewise if the body of Christ is all about you and you are not being fed and feel that you could do a better job feeding yourself it would make sense to feed yourself rather than to waste time going to church?

Here is the key. The body of Christ is not about you.

Recently I was attending a Bible College and my professor made an interesting statement. In essence he said that we, the student body, think of that school as a place of peace but in reality it is a place of tension. It is a place that draws us to a position of devotion to Jesus, holds us in a position of devotion to Jesus and when we stray from that position it is a place that draws us back to a position of devotion to Jesus.

That statement got me thinking. My professor was right. That is what that Bible College did and that was why I loved it so much. But the more I thought about it the more I realized that that is not just the role of a Bible School but it is the role of churches, families and ultimately every believer.

Hebrews 3:12-14 says, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.  For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end,”

We are to exhort one another daily lest any of our fellow believers be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

The body of Christ is not about you. It is about you pushing your fellow believers to Jesus. You ought to be that place of tension in your fellow believers lives that draws them to devotion to Jesus, holds them in that position of devotion to Jesus and draws them back if and when they become distracted.

We are commanded to be in the body of Christ not for our own sake but for the sake of the believers around us.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, “Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor.  For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.  But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up.  Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone?  Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.  And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

This is what God intended for the body of Christ. He did not intend for us to look out for our own good but rather for us to come together with the intention of serving one another.

We have an enemy who is prowling around looking for someone to destroy. He desires to mislead and overpower us. The body of Christ, working as God intended it to work is our best defense against him. If one of us falls the rest can help him up. If one is being attacked the rest can stand with him and together they can overcome.

Am I my brother’s keeper? This question followed the very first act of murder. Rather than standing with his brother to aid and protect him as God had intended, Cain killed his brother. Many in the church today are asking the same question because we, like Cain, do not want to take responsibility to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

This is sad and dangerous. At some point every believer, no matter how mature will grow weary, distracted or discouraged. This is why we are commanded to be actively engaged in the body of Christ, exhorting and encouraging one another on in Christ.

Yes, we are our brother’s keepers. When a brother or sister falls may we be there to pick them up.